The last Saturday in July, at the Easton Plein Air Paint Off, I had one of the most challenging sessions of my painting career. My good friends from the Norfolk Drawing Group, Bernard, Devon and Shara had decided to try out this 2 hour paint off. I had been going for two years and this would be my third. The last two times out I had barely finished and came up empty when selling. I had no illusions of winning awards, but both times I felt I had underperformed. Those paintings have since been recycled for painting night at the Norfolk Drawing Group. This past year, we had formed a lose group of plein air painters, with some of the Norfolk Drawing Group members joining us on some weekends. The outdoor conditions usually provided to be good, and when they were cold, windy or both, Shara, Bernard and I still went out to paint. With all the painting outdoors this year, we felt we were painting faster and better than a year ago.
We left at 5am to make the long journey up the Eastern Shore to Easton, Maryland. Every year, Easton holds a week long Plein Air event for the best painters in the world. I submitted this year, but wasn't accepted, (no surprise there). The great part of the week event is the two hour paint off, otherwise known as the quick draw.
Our journey encountered rain on and off, but checking the WeatherBug App Radar hinted that all would be clear of rain by 10am. At best, we hoped for cloudy skies and no rain. The road trip up was uneventful, except the unfortunate turtle in the road. Sadly, I had no time to avoid the turtle. Devon, riding shotgun with me was grief stricken, but snapped out of it when the 18 wheeler next to us had it's bumper fall off and nearly hit us. Now we both we were wide awake!
After getting into Easton, we registered and started to pick out our spots. Devon and I chose the main street of the event. Shara and Bernard chose the old hotel down the street. After setting up, I found another spot in the alleyway. I knew it was a good simple location and would allow me time to finish. The subject was a small cottage like brick building with slate shingles for a roof. In the composition, I was feeling really good about the painting. Because I was in a dark shaded alleyway I knew the sun wasn't going to be a factor. But I was painting with my easel on one side of the fence and me across from it. If I dropped any equipment on the other side of the fence, I would lose time jumping over and back to get it. Little did I know that would be the least of my worries. After getting the outline a massing in the cottage, roof and bushes. I began the center piece of my building, the double windows. I thought this was going to be a strong painting already. As soon as the front bush and windows were done. The rain crept in. A drizzle at first, but I kept going. I knew if it kept up, I was going o be in a bad spot. Made progress on the house behind it and he chimney was the right shade of red to not take away from the main cottage. Then it happened. A torrential down pour. At first I tried to tilt be easel at an angle so it was shielded from water. Then my actual bottom tray was soaked. In a despair ate attempt, I thought my rain parka would make a good cover between my head and easel. I looked like an idiot, and idiotic idea got paint all over the parka. Dumb idea. It was bad now as the rain actually increased in intensity and I foolishly kept trying to paint. The guy across the yard on the other side of the fence had gone now. Earlier, he was sticking it out like me, and I had hope if he could manage, I could manage. I looked to my friend Carol across the garden. She has been plein air painting for awhile and came prepared with a pro umbrella. Damn, I knew I should have bought one of those umbrellas! If you aren't familiar with what I'm talking about, these umbrellas are designed to block sun out of your painting and provide shade. And of course the obvious, allowing you to paint in the rain! I've always shunned using an umbrella even when walking. I don't mind the rain, except when painting. I should have on invested in one though since I've been rained out of two really good painting spots before. So, here I am, totally drenched, paint all over myself and now I notice that the bottom of my paint pallet is flooded with water. I thought to myself maybe it was time to throw in the towel. But, I decided I had invested a lot into this trip, I'll be damned if I'm going to not finish this painting. Checking my clock, 11:06am, I had less than an hour to finish this painting! I ran over to Devon who had been sprayed wet by the wind gusts, his watercolor papers got soaked, but he was under the original awning we looked at before I picked the alleyway around the building. The artist under the adjacent awning from Devon was still painting, I asked if he thought they would delay and he replied, "Two hours, rain or shine, it ends at 12pm!". So with that, I became determined to finish with less than an hour left. Setting up quickly next to Devon under the awning, I began to get into Painting Night mode where every other 10 minutes, I’m asking Devon how much time left. This wasn’t so bad, except that I kept calling Devon, “Bernard” since it’s usually his job to keep time during our painting sessions at the Norfolk Drawing Group. I tried to correct myself, and every time I slipped, I had to apologize to Devon. Painting from memory, I tried my best to remember everything thing from the original painting spot. I knew there were things I was going to leave out, but time was running out and there was still a good foundation on canvas still. I focused solely on finishing this painting and every time I asked Devon what time was left, it felt like was more and more in trouble of not finishing.
Sometimes a painting can develop very slowly and then suddenly a miracle happens. A few quick brush strokes, and suddenly the painting looks finished. This happened to me and with five minutes left, I was able to fix a couple of small stray areas and then sign my name. After stepping back and taking the painting in, I knew already it was a huge improvement over last years painting. And with less time spent painting it to boot! Making a mental note of everything, I came to realize that choosing a simple subject paid off. I was feeling super stoked about the whole experience. When Bernard and Shara came back, they said a volunteer offered to old umbrellas over them while they had painted! I was sure when it began down pouring during the competition, they would be cursing me. To my surprise, they had an awesome time, even with the challenges of the weather. Getting my work out for judging and for public to see, I wondered how many artists actually finished. Walking around I quickly noticed most of the artists selected for the weeklong painting competition had finished. A lot of the work was really impressive, simple in composition, but strong in color. Next year, I’m going to have to step it up a notch.
After the high of speed painting wore off, I was pleasantly surprised to meet a buyer. Awesome! We all packed up, grabbed some BBQ and then stopped by one of the last High’s Ice Cream shops in the state before heading home. Who knew they had an “Ice Cream Happy Hour”? Two scoops on a sugar cone cost me 69 cents! Looking back, I felt vindicated for the past two disappointing outings at Easton. Next year should be even better.